Is Naples Worth Visiting? 12 Reasons That’s a Yes

If you ask me “is Naples worth visiting?” I won’t think twice before replying “absolutely”! Once you discover the gateway to the Italian South, you won’t stop till you’ve been to every major attraction in this sun-drenched if underrated part of the country.

I’m not sure why Southern Italy’s largest city gets way less attention from international visitors than Rome, Milan, Venice, and Florence. Naples is just a stunning city that will stuff you with delicious food, breathtaking views, and a 2,500-year-old culture.

piazza plebiscito in naples

Before telling you why you can’t skip Naples on your next trip to Italy, I’ll try to be fair and outline the reasons why some people steer clear of it instead.

Jamm’ jà! (i.e. “let’s go!” in Neapolitan)

Why some travelers avoid Naples

It has a bad rap safety-wise

Naples is notorious for the shamelessness of its bag snatchers, who’ll often be driving a scooter as they rob folks. The city’s also teeming with counterfeit goods on every corner (which is not exactly dangerous per se).

So now you know watching your belongings and staying away from any street vendors who offer you “legit” designer items are paramount in Naples.

Housing project in Scampia, Naples
Editorial credit: Vincenzo De Bernardo / Shutterstock.com

Yet I don’t know of any big city where you shouldn’t be at least mildly concerned with your safety — at least none where it’s fun to walk around.

The city center is pretty safe anyway, though areas like Quartieri Spagnoli are a bit sketchy after dark.

The real crimes issues, however, are in the housing projects on the outskirts of town, such as the infamous Vele (or “Sails”) of Scampia pictured above.

Public services can be quite slow

This is actually an issue across much of southern Italy and extends as far north as Rome.

While that won’t affect you much as a visitor, you can expect public transportation to be mildly unreliable in terms of punctuality and streets to be a little dirtier with trash than in other parts of Europe.

Garbage piled up in Naples
Editorial credit: Lukasz Wrobel / Shutterstock.com

Until about ten years ago, the garbage situation in Naples and its surroundings was really chaotic, but these days you won’t find the enormous piles of trash the region was once infamous for. 

Nature is unpredictable

Though less prone to flooding than northern Italy, the south of the country hits the headlines once in a while with two sorts of natural phenomena: earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Fortunately, Mount Vesuvius hasn’t erupted since 1944 — a sequence of wildfires is to blame for the smoke you see below. It could go off at any minute, however, which would be disastrous given that 3 million people live around it today. 

Smoke in Mount vesuvius

Yet, just like the possibility of having a car accident doesn’t stop you from driving, Mount Vesuvius shouldn’t keep you away from Naples.

As for earthquakes, the latest major one in the area happened in 1980 (minor quakes are commonplace, however). But again, I’m positive seismic activity didn’t keep you from visiting L.A. or Tokyo!

Why is Naples worth visiting?

1. It’s over 2,700 years old 

Do you know of any other city in the world with two royal palaces and seven castles within its borders? I honestly don’t. 

Naples was first settled in Prehistory, then founded as a city by the Greeks in the late 8th century BCE. 

Ovo Castle in Naples

Throughout the course of its history, it was ruled by the Romans, the Normans, and the Spanish. What’s more, it served as the capital of a kingdom spanning the whole south of Italy for almost 600 years.

I dare say few cities in the West feel so ancient as Naples, as each era of its troubled history has left its mark on the city’s culture and cityscape.

2. You’ll get superb views all over the place

Many Italian cities are quite hilly, but in Naples the topography is a bit more dramatic (because of course). Most of the city lies on a plateau that overhangs the sea in some stretches. 

That’s not all, though: the city center is surrounded by hills, the most famous of which are Vomero and Capodimonte.

View from Castel Sant'Elmo

While Vomero is topped by the medieval Castel Sant’Elmo, Capodimonte is the site of a neoclassical royal palace (Reggia di Capodimonte). 

Both boast top-notch art museums in their own right, yet the real show — the entire city at your feet — is definitely outside.

3. The weather is awesome year-round

Naples gets about 250 days of sunshine a year, which is pretty hard to beat (unless we’re talking about places in the desert like Phoenix). 

The city’s blessed temperature-wise too: the lowest average is 4.4 °C (39.9 F) in January, while the highest one is 30.8 °C (87.4 F) in August.

Women hanging out by the sea in Naples

With its typically Mediterranean climate, Naples has wet winters and dry summers, which is of course what beach lovers like me crave. 

Pro tip: June is the second-driest and the third-warmest month of the year. It’s not peak holiday season yet, so it might as well be the perfect time for a summer vacay in Naples. May is also top-tier.

4. You’ll eat like royalty

One word: pizza. It’s not a coincidence that the greatest dish in the world hails from Naples. After all, tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella were created in the city too. 

Like in any other city where there’s amazing grub, Naples has a very strong street food culture: there’s always a tempting aroma coming from each corner.

Pizza from Pizza a Portafoglio, Naples

Neapolitans often have their pizza a portafoglio (i.e. “wallet-style”), or folded in four as pictured above, so it can be eaten on the fly.

But there’s obviously a lot more to the local cuisine than pizza. Highlights include spaghetti alle vongole (meaning “with clams”), Neapolitan ragù, limoncello (a superb lemon liqueur), and arguably the best espresso on the planet.

5. The architecture is simply unique

As it’s common across Italy, earthy tones make up most of the urban palette in Naples. Yet here there’s far more red and yellow around, which reflects both the city’s imposing and lively character at the same time.

Naples is also one of the few cities to have an architectural style named after it. The Neapolitan Baroque is noted for its extravagantly ornate buildings, with tons of marble outside and gold inside.

Castel Nuovo, Naples

Among ruins, plazas, castles, palaces, and churches, there’s no way wandering through the streets of Naples won’t blow your mind. 

Granted, not every historic building in town is exactly in mint condition because the times of plenty are long gone. Still, that ends up adding to Naples’ one-of-a-kind charm.

6. Neapolitans are fascinating

Now while I love how passionate northern Europeans and eastern Asians can be about efficiency and orderliness, I’ll admit I’m more of a fan of the chaotic energy Neapolitans give off.

There must be something in their water, I guess? The thing is they seem to have bigger fish to fry.

They’ve been building one of the most beautiful homes on Earth for almost 3,000 years, which to me means they’re entitled to be as eccentric as they feel like.

Man wearing loud shirt in Naples

Plus, they have gifted us with mouthwatering food, impressive landmarks, an entire musical tradition, and even their own style of Nativity scene.

Apart from their achievements and contributions to history and culture, Neapolitans are fun-loving, captivating people that you simply can’t not love being around.

7. Naples’ musical tradition is world-famous

Naples is the birthplace of opera buffa, the first genre of comic opera ever. The iconic Teatro di San Carlo below was historically devoted to serious performances. The popular and unpretentious opera buffa, in the meantime, took over the city’s smaller theaters between the 18th and the 19th century.

Then there’s the so-called Neapolitan song (or Canzone Napoletana). While its best-known tune is the upbeat Funiculì, Funiculà, the whole tradition tends to be more emotional and nostalgic than that.

San Carlo Theatre in Naples
Editorial credit: Diego Fiore / Shutterstock.com

As you walk around the historic center on a weekend, you’ll probably come across a band or two playing old-timey folk songs.

That doesn’t mean, though, Naples’ musical tradition has become mere stock for touristy performances. The scene keeps evolving and constantly gives rise to nice surprises like the Daft-Punk-meets-pizza duo Nu Guinea.

8. It’s affordable to visit

I’m not talking eastern European prices here, but if you’ve ever been to Italy you know how it can be heavy on your pocket (so many dishes to try!).

Southern Italy (except for Sardinia) is overall cheaper to visit and live in than Rome and the north of the country. 

Price of Margerita pizza in Naples

The pic above speaks for itself: you can grab a slice of pizza margherita for €1.50. Vegans will have it better, though: cheeseless pizza marinara costs only €1.00. 

Pro tip: Naples’ city pass is remarkably comprehensive and will let you into most of the major attractions within and around town.

9. There’s a lot to see right outside the city

I’m not saying Tuscany doesn’t deserve all the hype it gets, but the region surrounding Naples is just as packed with must-sees and should really receive more attention.

Pompeii, Vesuvius National Park, and the islands of Capri (where Caprese salad is thought to have been invented) and Ischia are all located within the city’s metropolitan area.

Faraglioni in Capri

The Royal Palace of Caserta, the largest of its kind on the planet and a late Baroque masterpiece, is a mere 30-min drive away from the city center. And Positano, the closest town on the Amalfi Coast, is about an hour away.

In case you can’t or won’t drive, don’t panic: you can take the train to Pompeii, Caserta, and Vietri sul Mare, at the southernmost tip of the Amalfi Coast. How easy is that?

10. Everything happens outdoors

The streets of Naples will invite you to eat, shop, chill in a park, go out for drinks, or people-watch joyfully and shamelessly. Since Neapolitans are a highly sociable crew who happen to live in a sunny and beautiful city, this shouldn’t come as a shock.

It’s true, though, that colder places in northern Italy usually have a strong street culture too. Yet not even the busiest streets up north are as exciting as a Neapolitan plaza. 

Busy street in Naples

When I was studying in Milan, I remember traveling to Naples and feeling happy at the sight of the city’s main square (Piazza Plebiscito), where dozens of kids were playing. Back in Milan, I’d barely spot any kids around at all. 

And have I mentioned the mandatory groups of paunchy seniors playing cards at corner bars? I’m pretty sure nothing else screams southern Italy like that!

11. There’s another Naples under the visible city

Just like Rome, Naples has a vast network of underground tunnels that you definitely should tour. Yet Naples seems to have opened larger stretches of its underground than the capital.

Here you’ll find catacombs, aqueducts, bomb shelters, military structures, and escape routes built for the royal family.

Underground Naples
Editorial credit: Serge Yatunin / Shutterstock.com

The Ancient Greeks were the first to start excavating the underground of Naples for building material. They unearthed tuff, a mildly soft rock that proved great for self-supporting structures like tunnels as well.

12. Neighborhoods have distinctive identities

In a way, I feel like Naples is made up of multiple smaller cities, as many neighborhoods have developed a culture of their own (and often, because of the city’s rugged topography, even have different microclimates). 

You have the notorious Quartieri Spagnoli (or Spanish Quarters), with its narrow streets and ubiquitous clotheslines; riverfront Chiaia and its elegant buildings; the commanding views you get from the hills of Vomero,… 

Quartieri Spagnoli in Naples
Editorial credit: ValerioMei / Shutterstock.com

…not to mention the never-ending commotion on the streets of the historic core. So please don’t treat Naples as a mere stopover between Rome and Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast. It deserves better than that — and you do too!

Conclusion

There’s a famous Italian saying that goes “vedi Napoli e poi muori”. It roughly translates to “you can die after seeing Naples”. True, Italians are not exactly famous for their taste for understatement, yet I do think they have a point here.

Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples

On top of being visually stunning and culturally exciting, Naples feels like a real city — unlike Venice and Florence, for example, which have lost some of their authenticity as mass tourism has taken over both cities.

I’m the one asking you now: is Naples worth visiting? I gave myself away 12 times throughout this post.  Let me know what you think in the comments!

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